Ballet show to honor Woodard

victorkang_ballet-15
Photo by Victor k.

This week, Yale ballet dancers will perform in honor of former Calhoun Dean and fellow dancer Leslie Woodard.

The Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company’s winter show, titled “Metamorphoses,” opens today at the Off-Broadway Theater. The performance is dedicated to former Calhoun Dean Leslie Woodard, who passed away last month. Dancers will explore the themes of transformation and change through excerpts and variations from several classical ballets, including ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle.’ In addition to being a popular theme in the classical ballet repertoire, the idea of metamorphosis is one that many Yale students can identify with as they come into their own during college, members of the YUBC said.

“In general, one of the most volatile times in a person’s life is at this stage,” YUBC Artistic Director Theresa Oei ’15 said. “[You’re deciding] your career path, who you are, what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.”

The ballet excerpts in the show explore many emotions and experiences students can identify with, Oei said, such as innocence, first loves and betrayal. Dancers tap into their personal experiences when bringing their characters to life on stage, she added.

Having to portray a character and his or her motive makes dancing narrative ballets — such as the ones featured in the show — more difficult, said Aren Vastola ’14, a dancer in the show. Dancers have to think about both acting and performing complicated choreography, he said, which can be tiring. The excerpts in the showcase ask dancers to consider how their movements motivate plot and relate to their characters. Vastola added that even though the showcase only focuses on excerpts, the chosen variations are from climactic moments in each ballet, which will allow the audience to see stories and relationships form on stage.

“Even if the audience can’t glean from one dance the whole story of the ballet, I think the grounding in narrative will make it more emotionally engaging,” Vastola said.

Oei said she thinks the intimate atmosphere of OBT will allow audience members a more personal experience than they would have viewing a traditional ballet performance on a raised stage, where the dancers are farther away from the audience. The audience will be able to form a deeper connection with the dancers and music, she said.

“The intimate space brings us closer to the audience, so they can experience those feelings and emotions we portray through our dancing and acting,” said dancer Adriana Rodriguez ’16.

Woodard, who was a professional dancer in the Dance Theater of Harlem, was very supportive of YUBC, Oei said. YUBC is establishing a scholarship in her name at the Dance Theater of Harlem for children who dance with the company, and YUBC will help collect donations for the scholarship. Oei added that the theme of metamorphosis represents Woodard’s ability to hold true to her love of dance while pursuing a career in academia.

Rodriguez said that before Woodard passed, she had spoken to her about the showcase and invited her to come see the performance. Woodard was looking forward to seeing Calhoun freshmen in YUBC perform with the group for the first time, Rodriguez said, just as she had watched Rodriguez’s first performance at Yale.

“I know she’d be happy to see that ballet people remember her … one of many ways she’ll be remembered,” Rodriguez said.

“Metamorphoses” opens today at 7:00 p.m.

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